Dentistry students receive National Health Service Corps scholarships

Dentistry students Eumi Choi and Thomas Nguyen plan to serve in the public dental industry. Nguyen wants to run a clinic in a small town and Choi hopes to work with the L.A. community and at USC. (Emily Smith | Daily Trojan)

Dentistry students Thomas Nguyen and Eumi Choi received scholarships from the National Health Service Corps last week. The NHSC program ensures full tuition and a monthly stipend of $1,300 for medical students. In return, the scholars must provide clinical health services and treatment to areas with a shortage of medical professionals.

Nguyen, a second-year dentistry student, said that his devotion to bettering the public care industry stems from his low-income roots. Nguyen said his family had to rely on Medi-Cal and food grants while he was growing up, and didn’t have access to proper hygienic care.

To prevent others from going through his childhood experiences, Nguyen pursued a profession that would help those with underprivileged backgrounds. He earned a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology from Cal State Long Beach and attended podiatry school until he realized he was most passionate for dentistry after gaining experience in the field.

“Everything about dentistry really just appealed to me, the procedures seemed really interesting and I got to work with my hands,” Nguyen said.

Unlike Nguyen, Choi, a dental hygiene graduate, spent much of her childhood going on mission trips with her parents to volunteer in disadvantaged areas. Choi said she remembers a specific trip to Nicaragua that pushed her to pursue a career in public dentistry.

“I was just there volunteering, assisting, doing administrative work and logistics and when I was there I spent a lot of time at the dental clinic translating for the dentist,” Choi said. “I think from there, I decided I wanted to do dentistry … They were amazing people and they really inspired me and so I wanted to have more of a practical skill set.”

Choi also attributes her success to the work she has done at public dentistry offices like the USC Mobile Clinic, a program where dental students travel in mobile offices to areas with a shortage of medical professionals. The program gave Choi the opportunity to receive hands-on medical care experience and become engaged with community outreach.

“Sometimes we’ll travel to Bakersfield or Escondido, look for migrant farmers and provide free care for their children and parents,” Choi said. “We visit these sites every year, very regularly, and it’s amazing because we can do it. We can follow up on the patients that we see every year.”  

Ostrow Dean Avishai Sadan believes NHSC scholars are important and that students should give back to the community through public service.

“We’re really proud of [Choi] and [Nguyen] on their National Health Service Corps scholarships,” Sadan said in an email to the Daily Trojan. “The education that they will receive here at Ostrow — with our focus on giving back to the community — will prepare them for the all-too-important work they’ll be doing in underserved communities after dental school.”

The two aspiring dentists plan to serve in the public dental industry in the near future. Nguyen wants to run a public clinic in a small town where he can connect with the patients, and Choi hopes to continue helping the greater L.A. community by working at USC after graduation.